Listening to NuGen CEO Tom Samson’s evidence to the Energy & Climate Change Committee last week (23rd March), MP’s might have gone home thinking that all was going swimmingly-well with the consortium’s plans for new-build at Moorside. However – and leaving aside the myths he peddled to the parliamentarians about three reactors being on target for operation at Moorside by the mid 2020’s, and the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being a ‘proven technology’ (no such reactor has yet been built let alone operated anywhere in the world) – things are not exactly hunky-dory for NuGen who, as Samson was singing its praises at Westminster, were forced into writing a grovelling apology to some local West Cumbrian residents. How come ?
Well, having contracted a Birmingham-based outfit TerraQuest – hardly a household name in this neck of the woods – as its specialist provider of land referencing services, it had instructed TerraQuest to write what can only be described as a dogsbody of a letter to property and land owners in West Cumbria that hinted at the possibility of the compulsory purchase of their holdings should they be needed for Moorside’s development. Slating the letter as being unclear and for using over-technical and officious language, NuGen’s apology has admitted that the TerraQuest (or should it be TerrorQuest ?) letters have caused confusion, anxiety and worry to local people. So much then for TerraQuest’s website claim that its services are delivered ‘through the application of diligent and auditable processes, based on proven experience, bespoke technology and collaborative working’ – with letter writing apparently an obvious exception.
With the threat of compulsory purchase raised last year in the first round of public consultation on its Moorside project, NuGen must now be wondering with some trepidation whether a TerraQuest letter has also dropped through the letter box of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a major landowner in the Moorside search area. For in a written response last year to that first consultation, the NDA makes its quite clear what it thinks of, and how it will react to, the compulsory purchase threat. “It must be made clear that if NuGen’s detailed proposals cover land which is required for current or future planned operational purposes, and that these areas fall within potential NuGen or other compulsory purchase orders, NDA may have no option but to object through the statutory process and seek redress”. Oh dear, who needs enemies when you’ve got friends like these ?
Whilst such wrangling simmers along nicely above the surface, a further gremlin will be causing NuGen some anxiety under Moorside’s murky and radioactive offshore waters where borehole drilling to confirm the site of the reactors’ cooling systems was due to start on the 1st April. Having submitted its application for such work to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on 3rd December 2015, approval of its plans might have been expected by NuGen by now, but a search of MMO’s website shows that the application is currently ‘On Hold’. With CORE having submitted objections to the application, we were curious to know why things had come to a standstill and contacted MMO. Careful not to divulge any state secrets, the MMO case officer dealing with NuGen’s case confirmed however that the application could not be further progressed until NuGen had supplied additional information requested by MMO. As of last week this had not been forthcoming and, based on the 13-week assessment period generally catered for by MMO for such applications before approval/refusal is given – plus the extra time needed to assess the additional information when it arrives – the starting date of NuGen’s offshore drilling plans may have just missed the boat.
If not, not to worry, for there are plenty more boats for NuGen to miss, including the slow boats to China and the US where uncompleted AP1000 new-build projects are years late – performances poised to sink NuGen’s new-build timetable without trace.